Kim Gray, Hydroponic Farmer

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How long have you been hydroponic farming—growing produce in a system without soil?

This is the fourth year, and our first to offer “pick your own” produce, starting in a few weeks.

How’d did it come about?

My dad and mom, who own the farm, saw an ad in a magazine while waiting on one of the grandkids to be born at the hospital. My dad tried hydroponics once years ago; it was, in his words, “a dismal failure.” This time we went to a commercial hydroponics class in Florida and bought a system from hydrotaste.com.

How many plants do you grow?

Around 26,000. About 15,000 are strawberries. What we’ve got on about 1/2 acre would take six or seven acres to plant in the ground.

Did the fairly recent droughts hurt you?

Not really. People might associate hydroponics with lots and lots of water, but we actually use less than traditional farming because each plant only gets the water it needs, with very little runoff.

Where do you get the water?

We dug a well, and we also use rainwater from a couple of retaining tanks.

What are you growing right now?

Strawberries, blackberries, lettuce, asparagus, tomatoes... For tomatoes, we do kind of a different season. We grow them in a greenhouse from late September until June-ish, then shut down in the summer when everyone else has them.

Are the plants special stock?

Any indeterminate plant will work, meaning it has no cap on its growth. The tomato vines are usually 30-40 feet long by the end of the season.

How do the plants get nutrition, growing in water?

We feed them natural nutrients individually. To be “organic,” you have to grow in soil, so we’re not technically organic. But we are all-natural. My kids are welcome to eat anything out of the field without washing it.

For more information about F.A.R.M. Market appearances starting in May and U-pick at the South Knoxville farm: kingshydrofarm.com

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